Just in case their calls were not loud enough. Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
Breeding season roundup
Don’t let the sound of a begging youngster fool you. The 2021 chicks are now fully independent. They just like to try their hand (or wing) once in a while with their parents.
Four youngsters have survived. This is a disappointing number although four is better than none. Thankfully, each from a different family which helps a little to spread the genetics around. Speaking of which, their DNA sexing results came in at the start of August. We have one male and three females. They all have names now too:
Rocky, breaking gender conformity with his bright pink leg ring, is the offspring of Dusty and Chickay.
Rémi, as reported last month, is wild-hatched Minty and Rey‘s first chick. She might be a St Ouen parishioner, but certainly isn’t seen as an outsider by the St John residents.
Wally Jnr. shares a lot of characteristics with her mother Wally when she was a fledgling at the aviary. There may have been a Kevin Jnr. but we never managed to sample the second chick before it perished.
Monvie is Bo and Flieur‘s girl who sports a mauve over yellow ring. Her name is taken from the Jèrriais greeting Man vyi meaning my old mate/friend (if addressing a woman it is Ma vielle). Its pronounced a little like you are saying ‘mauvey’ which helps to remember her leg ring colour. Learn more about the language at L’Office du Jèrriais.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the body of the missing fifth chick was found by Ronez Quarry staff on the 16th. We ringed it on 30th June so we knew it was Dusty’s and now know it was male. Judging from the state of the body he had died when we first reported it absent from the feed.
Two breeding pairs at Sorel resting in the rocky shade. Photo by Liz Corry.
Not all of the breeding pairs survived the season. We lost a male resulting in a ‘divorce’ of another pair and the re-joining of old flames. It also looks like we have lost the female who roosted and tried building a nest in Trinity. She has not been seen anywhere since early summer.
All being well, we will have two new pairings attempt to nest in 2022 bringing it to eleven pairs. The same as in 2021 despite our losses.
West is best
View of Grosnez with the other Channel Islands on the horizon. Photo by Liz Corry.
The choughs still preferred to hang out on the north west coast in August. Who could blame them with the views.
Cliffs from Grosnez to Plémont are frequently visited by choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
Not to mention the ‘playground’ that is Les Landes with the racecourse, stables, paddocks, rooftops, and scattered WW2 German-made structures.
As long as they keep out of the way of the occasional model aircraft and, more permanent, resident peregrines!
This peregrine at Grosnez might be more familiar with choughs than I would like. Photo by Liz Corry.
Food for thought
From March to July this year we had a student placement working on the project. Riccardo rose to the challenge of re-establishing our breeding colony of mealworms for the supplemental feed.
We have never really had enough continuity and/or success to fully rely on in-house production. We buy in 1.5kg-2kg of mealworms per week from the UK to supplement the choughs’ diet. We get a discount since it comes with the bulk order for Jersey Zoo’s residents. Yet this still equates to hundreds of pounds a year.
Thanks to Riccardo’s efforts we might be making a breakthrough. After a month of breeding we have produced about 500g of mealworms. Not enough to cancel the UK order, but it should keep our costs down.
There is potential to expand the operation…providing a certain DIY store continues to stock our ‘high-tech’ housing facility aka drawers.
Mealworm breeding setup for the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.
It’s a delicate balance of temperature, humidity, and the right amount of nutrients appropriate for each of the four life stages. Fingers crossed; we can continue Riccardo’s good work now he has returned home to Italy.
Next time you see an advert for ITV’s I’m a Celebrity….just think about the effort and expense that goes into raising mealworms. And then the waste!
Last month we reported our first successful rearing of young from a wild-hatched pair. Three chicks in the Plémont nest followed by the subsequent fledging of two.
Then, like a high street in lockdown, it went eerily quiet.
There was no sign of the third chick out and about. The Plémont cliffs are not very forgiving at high tide for a young bouldering chough. Easy to imagine it not surviving. Yet also hard to determine since we weren’t seeing any members of the Plémont family.
When Minty and Rey, the parents, eventually appeared at the feed they showed no interest in any of the juveniles. Observations were further hampered by the lack of choughs at the feed. We had to put in the extra mileage, literally, to travel in search of choughs or wait until the evening when they start heading home to roost.
A roost check at Plémont provided no answers just a stunning sunset.
The only info we had was from a member of the public who had photographed Minty and Rey with one unringed juvenile at the Pinnacle on the northwest coast. This was taken in June before we had managed to ring any of this year’s young.
The first Jersey juvenile from wild-hatched choughs. Photo by Anthony Morin.
Four weeks of not knowing then suddenly we had our answer. Reviews of camera trap photos set at the aviary showed Minty passing food to a chick. A chick we had ringed on 14th July and had seen at the feed every day since! Until that last week in July we had never witnessed Minty or Rey show any interest in the youngster.
Maybe that is their parenting style? The young chough is fairly robust, gets on with things, is confident around the aviary and within the flock. They raised her well.
We have named her Rémi which means ‘the first ones’ in Gaulish. Rather apt for the first true Jersey chough resulting from the reintroduction.
Family hierarchy: Rey. Minty, and Rémi. Photo by Liz Corry.
Five ‘gold’ rings
With much effort, we continued to try and trap unringed juveniles in the aviary. As already mentioned, the birds were not hanging around Sorel as much as in previous years. Leftover supplemental food and their preference of sites such as Grosnez, Les Landes, and L’Étacq implied they had resources elsewhere.
When choughs were present at the aviary they were, and still are, not as confident about going inside. No doubt for multiple reasons although strong influences will be the peregrines hunting above the aviary field and the overgrown vegetation potentially harbouring threats.
We switched tactics to try catching later in the day, around 7pm, by which point choughs roosting at Sorel or Ronez would be foraging closer to home. This worked on two occasions allowing us to ring, measure, and sample two juveniles.
By the close of July there were no more unringed choughs to be found. In total we had ringed five chicks all with a yellow ring to represent 2021 and a second unique colour. Sadly, that meant some youngsters had perished.
The yellow ring represents 2021, the bird’s year of hatch. Photo by Liz Corry.
2021 Breeding Season summary
Of the ten nests we knew about, only 50% survived to fledge a chick or more. We accounted for twelve fledged chicks yet only four still alive.
There is a slim chance a fifth chick, ringed pale blue over yellow, is simply playing an unintentional game of hide and seek with us. Seven adults are consistently absent at the afternoon feed. A few of those have been spotted along the coastline from Grosnez to Le Pulec. Is the missing chick with them? A task for August will be monitoring this northwest corner and determine the whereabouts of the pairs.
Wally Jnr. keeping close to her parents at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
There was an eleventh pairing in spring who were busy collecting nesting material in Trinity. As first timers we did not hold out much hope. It appears they did not even make it to the egg laying stage. No nest was found. Lots of false hope through seeing them steal twigs from pigeon nests. No actual Trinity chough nest.
This may or may not be related to the disappearance of the female. Then this month, the male was seen with a different female over in… guess where…Grosnez.
Tracking down choughs at Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.
Pinel was starting to worry us until we found him at Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.
We are carrying out several ‘gardening’ tasks around the aviary to create a less imposing surrounding for choughs, open up some foraging opportunities for them, and allow us to see when operating the hatches from the adjacent field. It should also mean less cover for feral ferrets to hide in and less attractive areas for rats.
Where are the sheep when you need them?! Photo by Liz Corry.
This meant a lot of grass strimming and removal of bracken. Hedgehogs, slow worms, and green lizards inhabit the embankment, so care is required. I also discovered a bumblebee nest and several ant nests; the latter a favourite of wild choughs.
Slow worm and an ant nest uncovered at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
In amongst the bracken there are shrubs the National Trust planted about ten years ago. Each year we try and help these out by removing the vegetation suppressing them like the delightfully named sticky willy. I’ve left the aromatic wormwood…how do we feel about a Birds On The Edge branded absinthe? We could raise a glass to toast the wild Jersey choughs!
Wormwood Artemisia absinthium, is one of many herbaceous plants found at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
Celebrations this summer as the population of chough in Kernow (Cornwall) is finally bouncing back after over two decades of conservation efforts. Every year their numbers have grown, but this year has been exceptional. They are now well on their way to becoming a healthy and resilient population.
In 2021, 23 pairs of Cornish chough bred successfully, raising a record breaking 66 young. A huge achievement for a bird once extinct in Kernow, but even greater against a backdrop of decreasing chough populations elsewhere in the UK. Not all the young will survive to adulthood and raise families themselves, but the higher the number of fledglings that survive each year the more robust the birds become against extinction in the future.
Recolonisation has expanded in 2021 with several more pairs between Godrevy and Newquay. The furthest north remains Padstow with no choughs beyond the Camel Estuary. As far as we know…. This year also saw some co-parenting with two males (brothers) paired with the same female, the trio going on to fledge three chicks. The county’s oldest males (aged 15 and 16) also bred successfully again, raising four chicks each. Two 12-year old females also reared young (one with the 15-year old male).
It has taken decades of close partnership work to get Kernow’s choughs back to this positive result. From the conservation expertise of the RSPB; to the passion of Kernow’s nature-friendly farmers and land managers who have brought back grazing to the cliffs; the vital funding for this land management from Natural England; the collaboration of conservation organisations like The National Trust; and the dedication of volunteers who monitor the birds to make this a conservation success story.
The National Trust manage key areas of Cornwall’s coastline, which the chough call home and now manage a team of volunteers that monitor the chough on their land. Kate Evans, National Trust Senior Visitor Experience Officer, said: “We are thrilled to see numbers of Cornish chough increase year on year. It’s with thanks to the passionate volunteers who give their time and who are dedicated to monitoring choughs, that we are able to build a picture of this growing chough population”.
The return of the chough to Kernow has been no small feat. It has only been achievable through close partnership work and the support of an amazing team of volunteers. The growing success of the Cornish chough is also testament to the hard work of nature-friendly farmers and landowners who provide the right homes for Kernow’s choughs to survive and thrive.
Jenny Parker, RSPB Cornwall Reserves Warden, said: “We want to thank everyone involved in surveying and providing the conditions for chough to flourish. Our volunteers play a pivotal role locating and verifying chough nest sites every spring and all around the Cornish coast, this information is then relayed to landowners, who with our help and guidance can help chough thrive.”
Nicola Shanks, RSPB volunteer, added: “It has taken a while, but finally the tide has turned for chough in Kernow. With continued good land management and the protection of safe nest and roost spots, it will ensure their future here and their spread up the coast into Devon and beyond”.
Oregon State University researchers have some good news for those of us well-meaning who place bird feeders in their gardens: the small songbirds who visit the feeders seem unlikely to develop an unhealthy reliance on them.
“There’s still much we don’t know about how intentional feeding might induce changes in wild bird populations, but our study suggests that putting out food for small birds in winter will not lead to an increased dependence on human-provided food,” said Jim Rivers, an animal ecologist with the OSU College of Forestry.
Around the globe each year, hundreds of millions of people put out food for wildlife, including 50 million in the United States alone, driving a $4 billion industry based on food, feeders, and other accessories.
But the popular pastime has long raised concerns about making animals dependent on human-provided food—especially during wintertime and other parts of the annual cycle that require animals to expend a lot of energy.
“The extensive and widespread nature of people intentionally feeding wildlife can have unintended consequences for free-ranging animal populations, and those consequences are best documented in birds,” Rivers said.
“On the negative side, it can facilitate disease transmission, restructure local communities, and alter migration behavior, for example. There’s even evidence that it can lead to changes to birds’ bill structure. On the other hand, it can also have positive effects, such as enhanced body condition, wintertime survival, and reproductive output.”
Bird feeding is especially popular in the northern latitudes, particularly during winter, when cold, stormy weather and minimal daylight reduce the time that birds have for locating natural foods. But not much is known, Rivers said, about whether birds become reliant on the feed their human friends put out for them.
“The only manipulative experiment to test that, using the black-capped chickadee (a species similar to the great tit), was 30 years ago,” he said. “It found no reductions in apparent survival after removal of bird feeders that had provided supplemental food in winter for 25 years, leading to the conclusion that bird feeding did not promote feeder dependency.”
Rivers and colleagues studied the feeder use habits of 67 black-capped chickadees subjected to one of three flight-feather-clipping treatments: heavy clipping, light clipping or, as the control, no clipping. Experimental removal of primary flight feathers is an established technique for altering wing loading and increasing the energy costs of flight, Rivers said.
The birds were tagged with RFID (radio frequency identification) chips, and 21 bird feeders along a 3.2 kilometre riparian zone were filled with sunflower seeds and equipped with chip readers to measure feeder visits by tagged birds.
Scientists chose the chickadee because it is a small songbird (it weighs less than half an ounce) that frequents bird feeders during winter throughout its range; has high daily energy requirements; and typically takes one seed at each feeder visit, allowing for a clear measure of feeder visitation rate.
“It’s an ideal species for evaluating how energetic challenges lead to behavioural changes in feeder use during winter,” Rivers said. “Our study found that the experimentally handicapped chickadees, those experiencing elevated flight costs, did not increase their rates of visitation to the feeders.”
Instead, feather-clipped birds actually decreased their feeder use for a couple of weeks— possibly to reduce exposure to predation—but after that used the feeders at levels similar to the unclipped control birds. The researchers looked at number of feeder visits, number of feeders used and timing of feeder visits and found little difference between clipped and non-clipped chickadees.
“Feather-clipped chickadees reducing their use of feeders relative to control birds suggests that foods in the environment—like seeds, berries and small invertebrates—were sufficiently available to compensate for increased flight costs and allowed them to cut back on feeder use,” Rivers said.
“It’s clear that the chickadees in our study did not increase their visitation rates nor did they increase their reliance on supplemental feed during a period when they might have benefited from it the most.”
The paper Experimentally induced flight costs do not lead to increased reliance on supplemental food in winter by a small songbird can be accessed here
We’ve filled feeders with seeds and nuts since many of us were children and loved seeing which birds arrive. And, we’re not alone – around half of all UK households do the same nowadays, spending £250 million on 150,000 tonnes of bird food each year. That’s enough to feed three times the breeding populations of the ten commonest garden species if they ate nothing else all year, with one feeder for every nine birds that use them.
Have you ever wondered how all of that additional food might be affecting wild birds? How much has our generosity changed their natural diet, and what of the bird species we don’t see visiting garden feeders?
If you live in the UK and the Channel Islands, one garden visitor you’re probably used to seeing is the blue tit. Blue tits are small, fast and often feed high in trees on tiny insects. Seeing exactly what they eat is tough. But with new molecular technology, it has been possible to test blue tit faeces from 39 woodlands across Scotland – some close to houses, some on remote mountainsides and some by the sea – and gain a fascinating insight into their average diet.
What was found, came as a surprise. A small moth caterpillar (Argyresthia goedartella) that lives on birch trees was their most common natural prey item, present in a third of the faeces sampled. But among hundreds of species of insect prey, there was also garden bird food – and lots of it.
Peanuts were present in half of all the faeces – the most common food item for Scottish blue tits – and sunflower seeds in a fifth. And the birds weren’t just popping next door to find these garden treats. Some were travelling as much as 1.4km from remote areas to nibble on their favourite garden snacks. Clearly this has become part of their staple diet.
A blue tit bonanza
Eating the food we provide gives blue tits more energy to lay eggs – five days earlier than blue tits that don’t. These earlier breeders are likely to raise more healthy chicks. Eating bird food was also linked to a nearly four-fold increase in the proportion of adults available to breed in a given area. Where there used to be one pair of blue tits nesting, garden bird feeders nearby meant there was now likely to be almost four pairs sharing the same space.
Other woodland species such as great tits, nuthatches and great spotted woodpeckers that enjoy garden bird food are doing very well too. Their UK populations have increased on average over the last 25 years that bird feeding has really taken off.
All this feeding might be giving these species an unfair advantage. These species have natural competitors in the woods that aren’t using bird feeders as much or at all, either because they’re shy or because they’re bullied by more dominant species, or because they don’t like the food people provide. These species include the marsh tit, willow tit, pied flycatcher, wood warbler and lesser spotted woodpecker. What’s happening to them is, sadly, not such good news.
How to help all woodland birds
On average, woodland birds that don’t use garden bird feeders have declined over the past 25 years, some to the point where they have almost disappeared from the UK countryside. Nobody knows exactly why, and while this may be partly due to their habitat fragmenting and the climate warming, garden bird-feeding may have also played a role.
Due to people feeding them, there are now more dominant blue and great tits in the woods than 25 years ago, eating more of the limited natural food and evicting other species from their nests. There are also more great spotted woodpeckers and squirrels, which eat the chicks of some birds. Perhaps an extra 700,000 pairs of very healthy and dominant great tits in woodlands is too much for the UK’s remaining 2,000 pairs of shy and subordinate willow tits.
While results suggest there’s a link between how much woodland birds visit feeders and their population trends, they don’t show a direct cause, so we shouldn’t panic yet. While scientists study this problem, responsible bird lovers can help.
Consider contributing to the garden bird surveys organised by the RSPB, British Trust for Ornithology and Action for Wildlife Jersey/Birds On The Edge to help scientists keep track of where birds are, in what numbers and what they’re doing. If you’re lucky enough to live where rare woodland bird species can still be found, consider providing less bird food to common species and cleaning your feeders regularly.
Meanwhile, there are more natural ways to encourage wild birds into your garden. Planting native shrubs and trees like rowan, hawthorn, silver birch, spindle and guelder rose is one option. They are all beautiful year-round, fairly small and provide excellent habitats for wild birds. Other ideas include mowing lawns less often and digging ponds.
As some rare species nest close to the ground, please keep dogs on leads while walking in woodlands during the spring too. But most importantly, keep enjoying these beautiful birds – in all their miraculous diversity.
The UK is listed as the worst nation in the G7 for the volume of wildlife and wild spaces lost due to human activity, resulting in it being ranked twelfth worst of 240 countries and territories.
The new league table is the latest in a growing body of scientific reports that highlights the urgent need for action from the governments of the UK in order to halt and reverse declines in wildlife and protect and restore the environment. Using the Biodiversity Intactness Index (BII), an internationally approved scientific measurement of the impact of human activity on plants, animals and landscapes, scientists are able to judge the damage to nature in different countries.
The UK has a score of just 50%, which means it has retained only half of its plants and animals, compared with 65% for France, 67% for Germany and 89% for Canada
In 2019 the State of Nature Report revealed 41% of UK species were in decline and more than one in 10 were at risk of extinction. When viewed next to the BII assessment it becomes clear that the UK is at a tipping point where, if enough action is not taken, we will have lost more than we have left.
Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB, said: “This report shows the perilous state of nature in the UK and why we must urgently protect what is left and work to restore what we have lost. The nature crisis is not something far away but it is happening all around us. We are seeing both the long-term damage to our natural world as well as the effects of trying to squeeze nature into smaller and smaller spaces to fit in with our plans. The result is that the wildlife of the UK is disappearing from our daily life and we are now at a point where we risk having lost more nature than we have remaining.
“With so much of what is precious to us at stake and at a time when so many of us have felt the benefits of being in nature through the pandemic, we should all be alarmed that while Boris Johnson is saying the right things about restoring nature within a generation this is not translating into action in Westminster. This week the Queen’s Speech outlined Westminster’s commitment to delivering an Environment Bill for England and Northern Ireland, but this doesn’t go far enough, and with newly elected administrations in Scotland and Wales, it is now time for all politicians to act.
“Every 10 years the UK joins the international community in agreeing goals and targets for the next decade, but we failed to achieve 17 out of 20 of these between 2010 and 2020. If we are to avoid another lost decade for nature, and when this could be the last decade we have to turn the tide, it is down to our Prime Minster to set us up for success and show us the binding action plan to revive our world. And by working in concert with decision makers in Westminster, Holyrood, the Senedd and Stormont the UK can set an example of our different governments working together to save nature.”
Through the Prime Minister, the UK has been bringing together world leaders to commit to saving nature. UK-led initiatives like the Leader’s Pledge have highlighted the urgent need to respond to the nature emergency, and the environment is set to feature at the UK hosted G7 meeting in June as an important scene setter for the upcoming UN COPs on biodiversity and climate. Likewise, the UN will launch their decade of ecological restoration in June highlighting the importance of the next decade to get to grips with the global nature crisis and put the natural world on a path to recovery.
The RSPB is calling for the governments of the UK to bring in legislation that will deliver action on the vital ambition to protect and restore our natural world, provide a blueprint for delivering on the UK’s world leading commitments and:
Set legally binding targets to halt and reverse wildlife declines by 2030
Determine interim targets to measure the UK’s progress towards the overall goal
Establish an independent watchdog with the power to hold governments to account.
To put the UK back on track, the RSPB is calling on all politicians to Revive Our World, and is giving everyone a place to voice their concerns, as well as proposing the legislation and priorities the UK and devolved Governments must set. To find out more visit the Revive Our World pages.
A female chough incubating her clutch. Photo under license by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
We have managed to identify ten nests. All of which appear to have females incubating eggs. Bonus news, one of those nests belongs to a wild-hatched pairing. Up until now, pairings have comprised Jersey Zoo or Paradise Park birds we have released or a 50:50 mix of captive-bred and wild-hatched choughs.
(H) = hand-reared
The other point to note is that the Jersey flock now only has twelve males and eighteen females. The two males that are not paired up only hatched out last year. You wouldn’t expect them to be breeding yet. Then again, if you read last month’s report, never make assumptions with choughs…
Bo and Flieur probing for insects at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
The Trinity Trio
Reports started coming in over Easter weekend of three choughs visiting horse stables near Les Vaux valley behind the Zoo. Working closely with the owner we investigated, did some probing, if you pardon the pun, and discovered a few interesting facts.
A pair of choughs had been using the stables in 2020. The building is like a smaller version of one the quarry buildings and surrounded by several properties with horse-grazed fields. The owner had not noticed the choughs in a while so assumed they had gone.
Now a/the pair had returned, this time with nesting material. However, what appears to be happening is that they are removing material (silver birch twigs) from abandoned pigeon nests and flying off somewhere else.
On one occasion there was an almighty ruckus as the pair flew in to be greeted by a third chough. A phone call on Easter Saturday saw me drive round to the stables in the evening and find a solitary chough roosting in the rafters.
The leg rings identified the bird as Bee the same chough regularly visiting the Zoo. This made sense, answering the question where does she go at night. It didn’t tell us who the other two were. That was until….
After Easter we received reports of two choughs visiting Peacock Farm. This belongs to the Jersey Royal Company of the famous Jersey royal potatoes. The farm also happens to be behind the Zoo and about a kilometre from the stables!
A pair of choughs were being seen, almost daily, on the site often with twigs in their bills. A neighbour managed to pinpoint which building they were going to. We met with two of their directors outside this building to introduce ourselves and explain about the chough project. Almost instantly, two choughs flew out from inside and started shouting at us.
I would like to tell you that we read the leg rings, know exactly who the pair are and can confidently say there is an eleventh nest in Jersey. A royal one no less.
However, observations over the next few weeks left us a bit muddled. We know that the frenzy of twig trafficking slowed down. When the owner of the stables moved house we naturally stopped getting reports. We have not seen Bee over the Zoo as much. Likewise, chough sightings at the farm have dropped off.
Choughs Pinel and Bee at Peacock Farm, Trinity. Photo by Hannah Clarke
We do know that Bee and Pinel were photographed at Peacock Farm on 17th April. Bee frequently visits Sorel for supplemental feed. We have never seen any inclination that she is paired with Pinel. So if Bee and Pinel are a pair, who the heck was the third chough? Why wasn’t Pinel roosting with Bee at the start of April? Is this a new romance, could there be four choughs residing in Trinity?
The choughs appear to be horsing around this month. Photo by Liz Corry.
Who knows! Thank goodness the Plémont pair are straight forward. Oh wait…
Plémont, pesky choughs and puffins
The Plémont pair look to be progressing well. The female is incubating and the male is doing his best to defend the nest. We are managing to make weekly visits supported by several public sightings.
The Plémont male feeding the female as she takes a break from incubating their eggs. Photo by Liz Corry.
The puffins have now returned to Jersey to breed along the Plémont to Grève de Lecq coast. Puffins nest in burrows often in the same habitat choughs use for feeding and nesting. Our Plémont pair often crop up in reports from the seabird monitoring ‘arm’ of Birds On The Edge. Typically, they are in flight so leg ring colours aren’t seen. That’s fine though right? Two choughs, one nest. All we need to know is when the chicks are due and if there are any disturbance/predation issues.
Wrong! Remember, never assume. Turns out there has been a switch-a-roo when we weren’t looking. In March we reported Beanie baby had lost her male and paired up with Minty, re-building the nest at Plémont. Jump to April and Minty is at Plémont but it’s not Beanie baby on the nest. It’s a younger female. Scandal!
Leg rings helped staff identify Rey as the female now on the Plémont nest. Photo by Liz Corry.
We haven’t seen Beanie baby all month. Was she ousted by the female or fell victim to the Plémont peregrine? We might never know. All I can say is Rey is incubating eggs at Plémont with Minty. Fingers crossed both Rey and Minty are rearing chicks come May.
Catching up with the choughs
We carried out a couple of successful catch-ups this month with the choughs to replace leg rings. All birds caught looked to be in good health and expected body weight. You always have to be extra cautious at this time of year. You want to be as quick as possible so as not to keep the parents from their eggs or chicks. Breeding females should only be caught if absolutely necessary and handled with care if doing so.
Which is my excuse for not taking any photos of the birds getting their new rings. Instead here is Riccardo trying to pretend everything is normal and that he isn’t holding the hatch door wires posed to drop them. See if you can spot the green lizard that clearly had me distracted from the job at hand.
Waiting to ambush the choughs at the aviary whilst being distracted by the basking green lizards. Photo by Liz Corry.
The aluminium sheeting has been fitted to the aviary to deter rat access. Our next steps are ensuring no rats are living inside. Riccardo is monitoring with the aid of camera traps. Once the all clear is given, the aviary can be used to confine choughs if needed for example for veterinary reasons.
April’s weather has left us without rainwater on several occasions and we have ferried containers up there and altered our cleaning regime to accommodate.
Vegetation-wise, everything is growing which means regular strimming and mowing to maintain chough-friendly habitat.
Sorel sheep set to work grazing a field previously used for winter bird seed crops. Photo by Liz Corry.
Meanwhile, the eco-friendly lawnmowers sharing the field with the aviary have set to work in another National Trust owned field. Don’t be alarmed if you visit and think a bunch of sheep have escaped. There is a hot wire around the perimeter.
Et maintenant, les nouvelles
Cappy is still happily living in Carteret, France. Photo by Catherine Bataille.
Cappy is still in Carteret. Yann has kindly kept us updated. We even had a photo sent in via Durrell’s Facebook site from a sighting on 11th April just north of Carteret. Read the news from France
World Migratory Bird Day: Join the global celebration of birds and nature on 8 May 2021!
“Sing, fly, soar – like a bird!” is the theme of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day, an annual global campaign dedicated to raising awareness of migratory birds and the need for international cooperation to conserve them.
This year the campaign will focus on the phenomena of “bird song” and “bird flight” as a way to inspire and connect people of all ages around the world in their shared desire to celebrate migratory birds and to unite in a common, global effort to protect birds and the habitats they need to survive.
The 2021 World Migratory Bird Day theme is an invitation to people everywhere to connect and re-connect with nature by actively listening to – and watching birds – wherever they are. At the same time the theme appeals to people around the world to use their own voices and creativity to express their shared appreciation of birds and nature.
Birds can be found everywhere: in cities and in the countryside; in parks and backyards, in forests and mountains, and in wetlands and along the shores. They connect all these habitats and they connect us, reminding us of our own connection to the planet, the environment, wildlife and each other. Through their seasonal movements, migratory birds are also regularly reminding us of nature’s cycles.
As global ambassadors of nature, migratory birds not only connect different places across the planet, they also re-connect people to nature and to themselves like no other animals on the planet.
In fact, billions of migratory birds have continued to sing, fly and soar between their breeding and non-breeding sites. During the pandemic, which slowed down many activities by limiting our movements, people across the world have been listening to and watching birds like never before. For many people around the world, bird song has also been a source of comfort and joy during the pandemic, connecting people to each other and to nature as they remain in place.
Scientists around the world have also been studying the impact the pandemic is having on birds and other wildlife, looking at how “the anthropause” – the so-called global shutdown in human activity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic – has effected birds and other wildlife around the world. At the same time, scientists have also been looking at the positive health benefits of birds and nature on humans.
Clearly, the pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for humankind. At the same time, it has also brought a whole new level of awareness and appreciation of birds and the importance of nature for our own well-being.
World Migratory Bird Day 2021 is therefore not only a celebration of birds, it is also an important moment to reflect on our own global relationship with nature and to highlight our collective desire to do more to protect birds and nature in a post-pandemic world.
Celebrated across the world on two peak days each year – on the second Saturday in May and second Saturday in October – World Migratory Bird Day is the only international awareness-raising and education program that celebrates the migration of bird species along all the major flyways of the world.
The chough pairs have been busy at their nests. Wool, horse hair and moss were being transported between Sorel and Ronez Quarry at the start of March.
The few cold snaps, where temperatures went below 4°C look to have interrupted the normal progression of things and pairs were still moving nesting material at the end of March. We think that at least one pair began incubating this month though, based on pair behaviour at the aviary. Nothing is certain. As the following will show.
It might well be the Plémont pair that have been visiting the stables at Les Landes Racecourse. A friend sent a photo of a chough on the window ledge as she was mucking out. Nest prospecting, after lining material, or just popping in to say hello? Not sure, but it started a trend that week for horse-related chough news.
I found horse hair in the Sorel aviary on Monday afternoon (26th). On Wednesday came the report from Les Landes stables and, on Thursday, I took a phone call from a lady in Trinity who wanted to report choughs nesting in her stables. She had tried calling the day before, but the Zoo switchboard experienced technical issues. If she had got through, I would have been able to witness a flurry of twig movement in the empty stables and a shouting match between three choughs!
Choughs have been moving twigs around in a stables in Trinity as evident from the mess on the floor. Photo by Liz Corry.
We already knew about Bee visiting the Zoo and roosting somewhere nearby. Three days prior to the Trinity ‘battle of the twigs’, a pair was spotted feeding by Jersey Dairy late in the afternoon and I spent two hours after work the next day staking out the area to no avail. The next day, keepers spotted three choughs over the Zoo. Then twig-ageddon.
Jersey dairy HQ where two choughs were seen feeding this month. Photo by Liz Corry.
The Royal Jersey Showground is next door to Jersey Dairy and offers more foraging habitat for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
These must be the three choughs involved in the Trinity stables squabble? Exactly which three remained a puzzle. At least for a couple of days. Easter Saturday, at around 8am, I got the call that the pair were back in the stables. Having just got out of the shower, I raced over with breakfast in hand to….oh wait, this was now April. I can’t tell you until the next report!
We definitely have a nest at Plémont. As do the raven pair and peregrines. Talk about unwelcome neighbours! We are a bit concerned about unintentional public disturbance and whilst you can’t physically access the nest, you can walk close to it. A few reports have included that the pair fly out to defend the site when people or dogs have approached.
Plémont, home to a pair of choughs, adjoins foraging favourites Grosnez and Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.
As most of Jersey’s choughs nest in the very active Ronez Quarry, you would expect them to be used to disturbance. However, two cautionary points (1) this pair has never roosted/nested in the quarry and (2) disturbance is a regular 7am-4pm at Ronez with 1-2days off a week.
All we can do is monitor the situation and evaluate at the end of the season. There isn’t any signage at Plémont to raise awareness. Then again, it might just have the same effect as a sign over a big red button that reads “do not press”.
We’ve attempted several catch-ups this month to replace missing or broken rings. The choughs are understandably vigilant during the breeding season. That being said, we succeeded a couple times resulting in a surprising revelation.
Green, the ‘forefather’ of the Jersey choughs, paired up with Pyrrho at the start of 2020. She wears an orange and white ring combo. So, this year when the female turned up with only an orange ring we thought nothing of it. That was until we managed to catch up, check the metal ring number, and discover it was Vicq!
What have we learnt from this?
Green is really unlucky having now found himself with ‘wife’ number 4 since 2015
Vicq finally stands a chance at breeding, having spent the last two years in a female pairing
Never make assumptions where choughs are involved!
The other solved mystery involved two choughs sporting only a yellow leg ring. We knew that one was Dingle as he is busy nest-building with his partner Red. The other, once caught, turned out to be Jaune so we replaced her missing cerise ring.
Tupperware party @ Sorel, 3pm
We have phased out the use of ceramic dishes for the supplemental feed. I’ve managed to find suitable sized Tupperware boxes with robust lids into which I drilled holes (16-19mm dia.). The holes allow slender chough bills to get to access the food. Spillage, aka rat food, is stopped by the lid. As too is rain, well light rain at least.
New food stations for the choughs to stop spillage and limit thieving magpies. Photo by Liz Corry.
The choughs initially ignored the Tupperware hence phasing in rather than completely switching. Once confident they were not a trap, the birds happily tucked in. The containers are screwed into the food stands for stability and easily removed for cleaning.
Release aviary modifications
We have bought aluminium sheeting from metal fabricators Raffray Ltd. They have cut and bent to shape the panels we need to attach to the aviary to stop rats climbing up and getting inside. The order arrived this month and will be fitted sometime after Easter.
Raffray’s aluminium panels have arrived for the release aviary modifications. Photo by Liz Corry.
Rewild Jersey wheels
Another modification underway this month saw the project vehicle transform to Rewild Jersey featuring an agile frog and a chough. The new signage is all thanks to the design team at Durrell and Signtech.je. Fingers crossed we don’t scratch it on the brambles driving down the Sorel track.
Speaking of amphibians, the toads returned to the chough aviary in the Zoo (also known as SORG), and spawned in the shallow pond. Pond is probably too grand a term. Not that the toads seem to mind. The chough student, who services SORG each morning, has been keeping the water levels topped up and we now have tadpoles. I’m not sure which we will be more excited to see this year, chough chicks or toadlets?
British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) Conference 2021
The choughs fought off stiff competition to secure a poster presentation slot at the 2020 BOU conference. Then Covid hit and the conference was cancelled. Not to be defeated, the entire event was transferred online via Zoom, Slack, and Twitter and held this month over three days.
For those of you on Twitter, search #BOU2021 and #chough or @Corry_Liz for the six tweet poster presentation thread. The poster itself can be viewed here:
Birds On The Edge is delighted to announce that Jersey’s Atlantic puffins have started to arrive to their breeding cliffs on the Island’s north coast.
This small colony has comprised only four breeding pairs in the last few years, and it is hoped that at least as many will return this year. The puffins have been a bit late to arrive, with only one or two having seen so far over the past few days.
This is the most delicate time for our puffins, as they settle back in their nests and wait for their mates to arrive. Any disturbance or negative experience could put them off and make them abandon the area, sending them off to look for quieter breeding grounds elsewhere. After they have settled, the presence of boats and other watercraft near their breeding sites might disrupt or affect natural behaviours, such as incubation of the egg, fishing, or feeding their chick.
Birds On The Edge asks everyone to follow the guidelines of the Seabird Protection Zone (SPZ) between Plémont and Grève de Lecq, and avoid visiting this area by boat, kayak, paddle board or any other type of watercraft between March and July. These guidelines are already observed by boat and kayak tour operators, who avoid this area at this sensitive time, as well as by the local fishermen, who only visit the area briefly to check their pots.
The presence of watercraft in the Seabird Protection Zone is monitored during regular puffin and seabird surveys. In 2020 a steep increase of leisure craft in the SPZ was noticed in comparison with the previous year. The number of private boats and kayaks recorded per hour increased by 360%. This was believed to be a result of the travel and lockdown restrictions put in place during the pandemic. It was hoped that this year all private boat and kayak users will avoid the area completely until the breeding season is over. However, Birds On The Edge has already received reports of people on kayaks going through the SPZ over the past week.
It is worth remembering that puffins and their relatives, the razorbills, can be found all across the north coast, but as their breeding is restricted to this area, it is extremely important to give them peace and quiet in order for them to return to their nests.
The safest way to enjoy puffins is from the public footpath between Plémont and Grève de Lecq. As the Jersey puffins nest in rock crevices and between boulders below the coastal slopes, they are out of sight when in their nests. However, they spend a lot of time sitting on the water below the cliffs, and the safest way to watch them, for both puffins and people, is from the footpath between Plémont and Grève de Lecq, looking down to the water. The various vantage points, benches and bunkers along the footpath are good spots to watch puffins and other seabirds from.
The public is also invited to join one of the free ‘Puffin Watches’ that will take place at Plémont over the Easter holiday break. For further details please consult the Facebook pages of Jersey Birding Tours and Jersey Wildlife.